One of China’s biggest investors in Australian agriculture is caught up in Beijing’s bans on beef imports over apparently trivial labelling issues.

New Hope chairman Liu Yonghao and Mr Forrest were joined by Chinese President Xi Jinping and then Australian prime minister Tony Abbott at a signing ceremony in Canberra.
Mr Liu is a revered figure in China after his rise from humble beginnings to become one of the country’s richest men who controls a conglomerate operating in 30 countries with 70,000 employees and annual revenue of about $27 billion.
New Hope is the major shareholder in Australian Fresh Milk Holdings, which is also backed by the Rich Lister Perich family and the nation’s biggest dairying outfit.
Kilcoy chief executive Dean Goode and New Hope Group managing director for Australia Nick Dowling did not return calls when contacted by The Australian Financial Review about the latest ban on beef imports.
Mr Dowling is also chief operating officer for the Oatley familys Balmoral Australia investment company.
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Pat Hutchinson said on Wednesday the latest suspensions were over very, very technical matters and the timing less than ideal given growing concerns about a trade war over Australias push for a COVID-19 investigation.
Mr Hutchinson said the issues raised by China included isolated examples of numbers on carton labels not matching numbers on manifests. He said the Australian beef industry labelling accuracy rate was better than 99 per cent.
The 2017 suspensions involving New Hopes Kilcoy plant and five other abattoirs lasted three months and were estimated to have cost the industry $1 million a day. Beef exports to China were worth about $832 million a year at that time, but have boomed since to $2.67 billion in 2019.
Mr Hutchinson said the growth in the trade showed Chinese consumers wanted Australian beef.
China wants to eat our product. There are no two ways about it, the numbers speak for themselves,” he said.
We understand the sensitivity in the court of public opinion around this issue. It is just the timing of [the suspensions] and their implementation is less than ideal.
Meat processor JBS said on Wednesday that it was working with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to address the technical issues raised by China in relation to its Dinmore and Beef City abattoirs in Queensland.
The company said both plants continued to operate with no impact on jobs, livestock procurement or beef production.
New Hope formed Australian Fresh Milk Holdings in 2015 through a $100 million deal with the Moxey and Perich dairy farming families in NSW. The other shareholder is ASX-listed Freedom Foods.
Australian Fresh Milk Holdings expanded its vast dairy footprint in January with the $40 million acquisition of four linked properties in northern Victoria covering 4000 hectares and with annual water entitlements of more than 6700 megalitres.
Of the other abattoirs, only one, the Northern Co-operative Meat Company, has been hit with a double-whammy suspension.
Brazilian-owned JBS has been affected on both occasions but the suspensions do not involve the same abattoirs.